The NCAA tournament is great, and it is arguably the best postseason event in sports outside of the Super Bowl. We love it. We love the brackets, the drama, the office pools (legal or otherwise), and we love the populist narrative.
But some of us have a misconception about the NCAA tournament, and we often are caught saying the NCAA tournament features the 68 best teams in the country. Of course, it does no such thing. The NCAA tournament is the most equitable and inclusive championship in sports. With the automatic bid, at least one team from every conference is invited to compete for the national championship. And, each year, more than half of the field is made up of non-BCS conference teams. Yet, some see the tournament as unfair to the "little guy."
Of course, in this age of "parity" (which means the state of equality in every recognized dictionary), every team that gets into the field has a legitimate chance to win, right? Wrong. The No. 16 seeds have lost every single game ever played in the NCAA tournament, and the No. 15 seeds have won a grand total of four games while losing 224 games. There have been some significant upsets over the years, including Final Four trips by Butler, George Mason and VCU. But do three or four data points make a trend?
Perhaps, if the very best teams (including the very best mid-majors) were actually included in the field. If the field included Marshall, Oral Roberts, Drexel and Seton Hall instead of UNC Asheville, Mississippi Valley State, Long Island or Vermont, we would have a more competitive tournament and mid-major teams with a better chance to win and raise the overall level of play.
But we don't have that in our current world of 340-plus Division I teams. So in the final installment of the Bilas Index, the Bilastrator will lay out for you the best 68 teams in the country, without regard for conference affiliation or the automatic bid. While you wait for the games to start, imagine a world where we compete for a trophy instead of everyone getting one, and compete for time instead of everyone getting three innings.
Imagine for a moment that we had the best 68 teams, as this automatic bid-less, BPI-generated bracket illustrates. Imagine that the players from Marshall or Oral Roberts could actually play for a national championship based upon merit instead of just conference affiliation. It actually might be pretty cool.
The Bilas Index is the best measure of basketball merit and accomplishment ever contemplated by man. It is flawless and is, without legitimate argument, the finest measure of hoops knowledge ever dropped on this earth. The Bilas Index makes use of certain reliable metrics like kenpom.com, the Sagarin Ratings and the Basketball Power Index (BPI), which was designed by ESPN's analytics team.
The Wildcats have the best record, the best BPI and the most talented team. Kentucky is one of only three teams rated in the top 10 in both offensive and defensive efficiency. And the Cats ripped through the SEC season unbeaten, with only a loss to Vanderbilt in the SEC title game and a loss at Indiana to blemish an otherwise perfect record. What John Calipari has done with this team of young players is remarkable. This team can win it all.